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Fallon retires from racing in wake of long struggle with depression

By Richard Forristal

In the end, confirmation that Kieren Fallon's long, illustrious and often tumultuous career has lurched to its conclusion as a result of a battle with depression made sense.

For the outsider looking in, the dark­ness of the black dog sheds a little light and clarity on a gifted enigma who has flitted from one false dawn to another over the past decade. With every return from another self-inflicted exile, the spectre of salvation loomed.

Invariably, though, the cycle repeated itself. Turmoil and controversy were followed by hope and the prospect of re­demption, which in turn were trumped by setbacks and disappointment.

The impression persisted that Fallon couldn't help himself. Revisionism can be a convenient method of colouring uncomfortable truths, but maybe he couldn't.

It is nearly 10 years since Fallon first spoke publicly about depression, such is the stigma that lingers over the illness.

Freed of the pressures inherent in a high-profile jockey's existence, Fallon might be able to get on with proactively dealing with what had clearly become his Achilles' heel.

The brief association with Michael O'Callaghan that plucked him from obscurity and promised to rekindle that intense focus has sadly proved to be the last chapter in the chequered career of one of Irish sport's most compelling figures.

At 51 years of age, Fallon still has a lot of living left to do. In so many ways, he was the heir to Pat Eddery's mantle, and the priority for him and those around him now will be to ensure that he doesn't emulate such a destructive path.

Like Eddery, Fallon is an old-fash­ioned flawed hero, a quietly spoken and reserved genius possessed of fierce ambition, but with an uncanny knack of drawing trouble on himself. He suc­ceeded Eddery as Henry Cecil's stable jockey in 1997, and their bumping, momentum-filled crouching styles were reassuringly distinctive, an attribute regrettably lost on the modern gener­ation of generically trained flat-backed stylists always looking to deliver in push-button fashion for aesthetic effect.

Fallon's penchant for bringing one with a purposeful run - think Kris Kin in the Derby or Dylan Thomas in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - to mow down its rivals was a joy to behold. In so many ways, though, he was his own greatest rival. Back in the 1990s, the signs of his tempestuous nature were there in suspensions for misuse of the whip against both horses and jock­eys, and he was handed a six-month ban for pulling his colleague Stuart Webster off a horse.

From an alcohol de­pendency to two ruinous suspensions for cocaine usage, to the calamity of his sacking by Cecil amid allegations of an affair with the late Newmarket legend's wife, to the unfounded allegations of race-fixing and what might be perceived as acts of professional betrayal, the son of a Crusheen plasterer lacked a smooth finish. Nonetheless, for all his quirks, Fal­lon's legacy will endure. He may have managed to relinquish his position as stable jockey to Cecil, Michael Stoute and Aidan O'Brien in various states of ignominy, but his brilliance earned him each position in the first place. When he succeeded Eddery as champion jock­ey, he became just the sec­ond Irish rider to top the pile in Britain. He would make the title his own until 2003, briefly re­linquishing it in 2000 following a Royal Ascot fall that nearly finished him.

More than anywhere else, Fallon was an elemental force of nature at Epsom. Truth be told, the irresistible combi­nations that he shared with Cecil and Stoute were responsible for three of the worst Derby victors in modern times.

Oath, Kris Kin and North Light came and went at Epsom, and Fallon's un­quantifiable role in those famous wins was yesterday evoked by his former peer Johnny Murtagh.

"One of the best rides I've ever seen in the biggest race in the world - the Derby with Kris Kin," Murtagh said of the 2003 Classic. "The best horse didn't win the race, the jockey on the day carried him home; not a brilliant horse, but a brilliant ride." Acknowledging a per­ceived weakness is familiar territory for Fallon, so the hope now is that he can find a more sustainable equilibri­um. Moreover, it is imperative that he does so for the good of his own health, and Murtagh didn't shirk or sugar-coat the issue

"I've heard it all before," he observed of Fallon's acknowledgment of his depression. "He has opened up about different things before but, does he go and get help, or is it just the talk? We all can say we're suffering from this or that, but you have to go and do something about it. Nobody is bulletproof."

Belfast Telegraph


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